Coalition delays appointments to judicial selection panel, amid bid to control it

As it seeks to take over process of nominating judges, government changes Knesset bylaws, extending deadline to form Judicial Selection Committee to June 15

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends the Knesset debate on the coalition's first judicial reform bill, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends the Knesset debate on the coalition's first judicial reform bill, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government on Sunday changed the Knesset’s bylaws in order to delay appointing new representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, amid its ongoing push to restructure the panel — responsible for appointing all of Israel’s judges — and place it firmly under coalition control.

Passed by 51 to 47, the amendment grants the Knesset an additional three months to select representatives for selection and appointment committees, extending the timeline from March 15 to June 15. Until Sunday’s vote, the rules stated that the Knesset must choose representatives for those panels, including the Judicial Selection Committee, within four months of its swearing-in.

The coalition explicitly tied the change to its ongoing push to transfer judicial appointments into its own power as the reason for the bylaw change, according to an accompanying explanation for amendment.

“Today, we’re passing not a technical update, but a substantial one,” the opposition Labor party MK Gilad Kariv charged from the Knesset podium. “All of this to enable the coalition to complete its bid for control over the system for appointing justices.”

In turn, former justice minister Gideon Sa’ar of the opposition National Unity party attacked the judicial appointment panel changes, which he told the Knesset “definitely won’t lead to choosing the best judges in the judicial system,” but rather the judges who suit whoever is in the coalition “at that time.”

Its bit to wrest control of judicial appointments is one pillar of the coalition’s sweeping plan to overhaul the judiciary, constraining judicial power in favor of expanding political control. Critics and protesters say that by stripping Israel’s main checks against political power, the full reform would change its system of governance, eroding democracy. Supporters claim that the reform is a necessary “rebalance” of power against an activist judiciary, and will enable appointing judges more aligned with voter wishes.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv speaks against the repeal of sections of the 2005 Disengagement Law in the Knesset plenum, February 15, 2023. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson’s Department)

The coalition’s explanation accompanying the single plenum vote necessary to change the bylaw nodded to the full plethora of reforms its politicians are pursuing.

By extending the timeline from four to seven months of the Knesset’s tenure, the change will “allow the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee to complete its deliberations,” as well as “avoid a situation in which the Knesset will elect its representatives for a short period of time,” it said.

Rather, judges and other positions requiring yet-to-be-formed Knesset-appointed selection committees will remain in limbo until new committees are formed.

Currently, there is no Judicial Selection Committee, as each Knesset forms its own.

Most Popular
read more: